SD Farmers Union chooses new youth leaders

Toby Kane
South Dakota Farmers Union
During the 2021 South Dakota Farmers Union State Leadership Camp, youth elected the 2021 Junior Advisory Council (left to right): Levi Nightingale, Victoria Haverman, Allyssa Fordham, Connor Hutcheson, Casey Tolsma and Rachel Gerlach.

This last year, we all learned new ways of staying connected. High school students were hit especially hard, as many missed milestones and school activities. Students were forced to adapt to new ways of learning, communicating and staying social.

This year’s South Dakota Farmers Union State Camp brought back some of the old ways of doing things, plus added a few new experiences.

“My first year at state camp was a fun experience. I didn’t know anyone when I got there, but I made a lot of friends,” says Gettysburg eighth-grade student Bobbi Eide. “The experience definitely couldn’t be recreated virtually. I’m glad it was in person.”

Cadence Konechne, an eighth-grade student from Kimball, said “It was nice to meet new people. I learned a lot about cooperatives and how they actually work. I also learned a lot about diversity and enjoyed meeting the new Junior Advisory Council.”

The campers elected the Junior and Senior Advisory Council (JACs) and welcomed them in with a JAC induction ceremony. The ceremony did not take place last year due to COVID-19, so it’s a welcome return to a longstanding tradition for the campers.

“I think it’s important to make it a special evening for our new leaders,” said education director Rachel Haigh-Blume. “It recognizes the work they’ve put in to earn the title of leader and inspires younger campers to do the same.”

The JACs act as mentors and leaders for campers and help with key decisions and planning throughout the year. Meet this year’s elected JACs:

Alyssa Fordham (Groton, SD)

Alyssa is the daughter of Michael and Tina Fordham, and she is looking forward to coming back to camp as a JAC to help plan and implement the team’s ideas. She believes the program allows campers from all over the state to come together and make great friends in a welcoming environment. Camp has taught her many skills that impact her thinking and life, including the cooperative business model and how it impacts people locally. Alyssa participates in one-act plays, oral interpretation, Groton Leos Club and Destination Imagination.

Rachel Gerlach (Stickney, SD)

Rachel is excited to join the JAC team and meet the new campers. Her ideas and ability to get along with teammates make her a wonderful addition. Rachel feels SDFU camp has allowed her to gain confidence in who she is and not let others judge her for it. She enjoys the dances, games, campfires and making new friends. Rachel participates in FCCLA, National Honors Society, basketball, volleyball, track, choir and band.

Victoria Havermann (Elk Point, SD)

Victoria is excited to bring her thoughtfulness, listening skills and understanding to the planning team. She values leadership and being a role model and is excited to lead the next generation of Farmers Union campers. Her favorite memories are meeting new people. Camp has helped her become more confident and grateful for what she has. Victoria participates in cheerleading, color guard, choir and 4-H.

Connor Hutcheson (Canistota, SD)

Connor is excited to bring his communication skills to the team and his ability to start up conversations with anyone. His problem-solving skills will be an asset and he enjoys seeing ideas come to life. His favorite part of being a JAC is getting to know people better and building relationships that last. He has learned about cooperatives and how they function and hopes to continue to incorporate games and learning into the next camp season. Connor participates in FBLA, cross country, basketball, track, National Honors Society and other volunteer opportunities in his hometown.

Levi Nightingale (White Lake, SD)

Levi is excited for the opportunity to return and see his friends and welcome new campers. His ability to work with others and create new and inventive plans will be a great addition to the JAC team. Camp has helped him become independent and self-reliant, as well as teach him about cooperation and communication. He enjoys camp and believes he wouldn’t be who he is today without the past five years of attending camp. Levi participates in football, wrestling, track, band and choir.

Casey Tolsma (Stickney, SD)

Casey is looking forward to helping new campers have fun at camp and getting them involved. Camp has taught her how to respect others, as well as build social skills and confidence. She finds camp to be a positive atmosphere filled with caring and friendly people who get to experience great adventures like tour days, lock-ins, campfires, hikes, dances, skits and other memories together. Casey participates in basketball, volleyball, track, FCCLA and 4-H.

To learn more about educational opportunities SD Farmers Union provides to South Dakotans of all ages, visit